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Rookies reign in Fortnight

First-time film directors are set to dominate this year’s Directors Fortnight (May 18-28) at the Cannes Film Festival in a lineup of 14 pix that is noticeably short on laughs.

Despite rumors that an Italian project would be making up the numbers – Gianni Zasani’s “In the Crowd” is the only Italian entry – Fortnight selection execs have plumped for Taiwanese “Heartbreak Island” and Norwegian helmer Bent Hamer’s “Eggs.”

The Fortnight program includes no fewer than eight debut features, including Raymond DeFelitta’s “Cafe Society” and James Mangold’s “Heavy” from the United States.

All but one of the feature debutants are in the running for the Festival’s Camera D’Or, given to first-time directors. The exception is Sweden’s Kristian Petri, who has previously lensed a feature length documentary, “The Atlantic.”

Reflecting the trend in the fest’s official sections this year, the prestigious sidebar event features three pix from the U.S., and two each from the U.K. and Canada.

DeFelitta’s “Cafe Society” will be making its world premiere at Cannes. Starring Lara Flynn Boyle, Frank Whaley and Peter Gallagher, the New York-set story is based on a true tale of prostitution in the ’20s. Pic is produced by Cineville/Skyline.

Mangold’s “Heavy” unites Pruitt Taylor Vince, Liv Tyler, Shelley Winters and Deborah Harry in a story of an overweight pizza chef, his mother and a beautiful girl. The film, which was well received at Sundance, was produced by Available Light Inc.

The third American pic in the Fortnight is Todd Haynes’ “Safe,” which has reportedly been trimmed since its world preem at Sundance in January. Sony Classics’ release about physical and spiritual malaise stars Julianne Moore, Xander Berkley and Peter Friedman.

From the U.K., Portman Prods.’ “An Awfully Big Adventure” is a dour coming-of-age story set in a small-time English theatrical company, directed by Mike Newell. The pic had its world preem at Sundance; Fine Line is repping in the U.S. “Adventure” also stars Alan Rickman and Georgina Cates.

Rising British actress Katrin Cartlidge, of “Naked” and “Before the Rain,” toplines Constantine Giannaris’ dark London-underbelly comedy “3 Steps to Heaven,” which will be seen in its world premiere in the Directors Fortnight.

Serbian helmer Goran Paskaljevic, who previously had pix in competition and in the Fortnight, will be back in Cannes with “Someone Else’s America.” Shot in the U.S. and Montenegro, this is a tale of two foreigners (Tom Conti and Mikli Manojlovic) getting by in New York. Vet Jean Cocteau actress Maria Casares makes a return to the big screen after years away.

Having struck out in the official competition and Un Certain Regard, Scandinavia gets a small place in the sun thanks to docu maker Kristian Petri and rookie Bent Hamer. Petri’s first feature – a world premiere – “Between Summers,” is a keenly awaited existential drama. Bent Hamer’s “Eggs” stars Sverre Hansen, Kjell Stormoen and Leif Andree. Set in contemporary Norway, the pic follows two elderly brothers, Moe and Pere, whose life together is seriously disrupted by the arrival of Pere’s son Konrad- the result of the old man’s single voyage away from his home. Hamer has previously shot eight shorts and a documentary.

Another documentary maker, Laurent Chevalier, lines up alongside Petri in the Fortnight. “L’Enfant Noir,” from France and Guinea, is a slice-of-life pic following a young African boy’s education for a better life.

Belgium-based Palestinian director Michel Khleifi has “The Tale of Three Diamonds” in the Fortnight. Lensed in the Gaza strip, this is a story of a boy’s dreams of going to America.

Iran will be repped by Jafar Pahani’s “The White Ball.”

From Austria, Paulus Manker’s “The Moor’s Head” is a disturbing saga of a chemical research institute worker who has a crisis of identity.

Two Canadian pix round out the selection. Legit thesp Pascale Bussieres is among the cast for Charles Biname’s “Eldorado.” TV director Biname has taken a leaf out of Robert Altman’s style book with this criss-cross patchwork of Montreal life.

Robert Lepage has not pulled his punches in the violent “The Confessional,” starring Lothaire Bluteau, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Patrick Goyette.

“Heartbreak Island” is lensed by Hsu Hsiao-ming and produced by Hsu Hsiao-ming Films Ltd. Based on Tong Nien’s novel “Last Winter.” Pic stars Vicky Wei, King Jieh-wen, Chang Ching-ju and Tsai Chen-nan. Hsu Hsiao-ming’s first pic, “Dust of Angels,” appeared in the Director’s Fortnight in 1993.

Todd McCarthy in Los Angeles and David Rooney in Italy contributed to this report.

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